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Adopt a Clitoris: Charity at a porn convention

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Photo: Scott Den Herder

The exhibit hall of a porn convention may not seem like a place for charity fundraising or discussions on global worldviews, but the Clitoraid booth at the 2010 Adult Entertainment Expo managed to facilitate both.

The presence of the non-profit organization, which specializes in clitoral reconstruction for African women who underwent genital mutilation, was an extreme departure from most of the booths surrounding it. While the booth did offer eye candy — a half-dressed woman sporting the intriguing slogan "adopt a clitoris" — Clitoraid's attendees held clear plastic donation boxes and handouts explaining the goal and importance of their charity instead of pedaling DVDs or flyers for pay-to-play websites.

Clitoraid is a non-profit organization that helps African women restore their clitoris after female genital mutilation.

Sadie Knowles, a masters-level student at UNLV hoping to eventually become a sex therapist, volunteered at Clitoraid's booth Thursday. It was her first experience at the annual expo, and she said she was "very impressed" by the number of people who stopped by the booth to say hello, talk and donate money.

"I think there are a lot of people who don't know anything about female genital mutilation," she said. "There's been a lot of shock."

Female genital mutilation is a procedure that involves excising the external female genitalia. It most commonly occurs in Africa, where Clitoraid is in the process of building a hospital offering free reconstructive surgery for women. Created by French doctor Pierre Foldes, the procedure involves uncovering the root of the original clitoris left after the excision. This root and tissue become a new clitoris and can restore the sexual pleasure function of the external female genitalia after six weeks of healing.

UNLV professor Larry Ashley has been working with Clitoraid for approximately a year, assisting in the mental therapy for women who undergo the reconstructive surgery. He works with Dr. Marci Bowers, an expert in transgender surgery who has been trained in clitoral reconstruction, at her clinic in Colorado.

Ashley says one misconception about female genital mutilation is that men are the ones performing it on young women. According to him, the practice is done almost exclusively by women, typically the woman's mother or aunts. The practice has been so ingrained into some communities that women may never realize they are missing anything.

In some cases the procedure is done when the girls are so young they don't even know they've been altered. He recalled a woman from Mauritania he had worked with, saying, "Her mother circumcised her at one. She didn't know any different until she was talking to other women in her 20s. A lot of women ... they don't have any frame of reference."

Ashley's work is challenging because he must gently expose women to ideas that often contradict their generational beliefs.

"It's a major assault on culture and values," he explained.

Ashley, who specializes mostly in addiction and substance abuse, stressed the importance of the charity's work. He does his work for the non-profit organization pro bono, as does everyone involved.

"I think it's great that there's finally someone stepping forward and doing something about this issue," he said.

According to Clitoraid secretary and treasurer Thomas Kaenzig, the organization was formed in 2006 as part of the Raelian spiritual movement.

The hospital, nicknamed the "Pleasure Hospital," is currently under construction in Burkina Faso. Kaenzig announced at AEE that the roof has recently been put on the building, and he expects the space to be completed in mid-2010.

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